Security Council Visiting Mission to Colombia
This afternoon (3 May), Council members will depart New York to begin a visiting mission to Colombia that concludes on 5 May. The mission, which is led by the UK and Uruguay, is intended to demonstrate the Council’s commitment to the peace process in Colombia and to commend the parties on bringing an end to the conflict. According to the mission’s terms of reference, Council members will prioritise getting a better understanding of the aspirations and concerns of the parties and other actors, and encouraging the parties to maintain their positive cooperation and momentum in implementing the agreement. Thirteen of the 15 permanent representatives and two deputy permanent representatives will be making the visit.
The visiting mission is expected to meet with a wide range of actors in Colombia, including President Juan Manuel Santos and other members of the government, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo FARC-EP representatives, members of the tripartite Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) and representatives of the Congress. It is also expected to engage with the senior leadership of the UN Mission in Colombia, the UN country team and civil society.
Since the January 2016 request of the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP for the establishment of a UN political mission, the Council has been united in its support for the final stages of the peace process in Colombia and the implementation of key measures provided for by the peace agreement, namely the monitoring of the ceasefire and the laying down of weapons. The ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities, for which the UN Mission in Colombia constitutes the international component of the MVM, continue to hold.
The visiting mission will be an opportunity to assess progress, as the 180-day deadline established in the agreement for the laying down of weapons approaches (1 June). This process has faced several delays, particularly related to the transfer of FARC-EP combatants to the 26 Transitional Local Zones and Points for Normalisation.
However, there are some encouraging developments. A high-level meeting of the parties on 25-26 March in Cartagena resulted in the recommitment of the FARC-EP to move forward with the laying down of weapons, in parallel with progress in improving the living conditions in the camps and in implementing specific commitments of the government, including legal and security guarantees for FARC-EP members and plans for their socio-economic reintegration. Council members are expected to visit one of the temporary camps in which the FARC-EP combatants have started to lay down their weapons.
The visiting mission will provide members with an opportunity to learn more about the UN Mission in Colombia’s efforts to facilitate the laying down of weapons. Briefing the Council on 5 April, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault, stated that the mission had nearly completed identifying, marking and registering the weapons that FARC-EP combatants brought to the camps. The mission was expected to receive and store imminently about 1,000 weapons belonging to members of the FARC-EP who will participate in tasks related to the implementation of the peace agreement, such as participation in the MVM, training for security functions, crop substitution, humanitarian demining and peace education. The Mission has also conducted planning for the collection of weapons and the destruction of unstable armaments in a considerable number of caches spread throughout vast, difficult-to-access areas.
According to the terms of reference of the mission, Council members are expected to engage with members of civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The human rights situation in Colombia is expected to be addressed in these meetings. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (which has 14 field offices in Colombia) has raised concerns about the high level of impunity for violence against community leaders and human rights defenders in rural areas. Of particular interest to Council members will be the implications of the presence of non-state armed groups (including FARC-EP dissidents, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional guerrilla, successors of former paramilitary groups, and other groups linked to organised crime) in the areas vacated by the FARC-EP.
Given the recent adoption by the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict of its conclusions on Colombia, issues related to child protection are expected to be raised during the visit. As of 27 April, 73 children arriving with the FARC-EP to the zones and points were demobilised with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Council members might be interested in learning more about other measures taken to implement the agreement that, although not the responsibility of the UN mission, frame the environment in which it operates. These include the implementation of the amnesty law, the work of the special peace jurisdiction in adjudicating crimes committed during the conflict, the operationalisation of the Truth Commission, the transformation of the FARC-EP into a political party, and assurances that the civilian population in remote areas will benefit from the dividends of peace. Council members are expected to reiterate that, despite the upcoming legislative elections in May 2018, progress in the implementation of the agreement must continue.